By Joey Lee
People visit Mississippi for a wide variety of reasons, some come to enjoy the Delta Blues, some come for the history and we even get several thousand “Active Sports Tourists” each year for the Blues Marathon. If one man has his way, soon each year we’ll have thousands coming to ride the length of the state over several days on their bicycles.
The ride across Mississippi is the dream of Jackson resident, Peter Sharp who got the idea after returning from a riding vacation in England. He began researching more rides to do when he discovered the wildly popular RAGBRAI event in Iowa.
RAGBRAI, The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is the world’s oldest, and largest bicycle touring event. Now in its 42nd year, the ride crosses the state over a week and draws thousands of riders; with an impact of about $24.5 million on the Iowa economy. The event is not a race, I’ve heard it described as a party on two wheels. Cyclists ride a certain distance each day and then stop for overnight stays in pre-designated towns on the course. These overnight stops involve lots of food, drinks, music and fun for the cyclists, volunteers and residents of the town.
“After learning more about RAGBRAI, I thought, why couldn’t we have a similar type event in Mississippi,” Peter said. And so the work began.
Sharp has been planning, organizing and meeting with various key groups who can make or break an event like this. He’s had introductory planning meetings with the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Director, Malcom White and various cycling enthusiasts.
He’s also extended a personal invitation for the director of RAGBRAI to visit Mississippi to meet with the committee and provide insight, helpful hints and pros and cons to making such an event a success.
In doing his research to host something like this in Mississippi, Peter participated in this years’ RAGBRAI. “The experience was awesome. Pretty thrilling riding with 20,000 other riders, I met some great people and learned a lot,” he told me. “I picked up some great ideas, and several things not to do as well!”
Peter’s vision is of a north-to-south course, but with a different route selected each year, giving many different communities the opportunity to host a night and be a direct recipient of the economic impact of the event. “I’m thinking seven days. Arrive Saturday and ride Sunday through Saturday,” he said.
He’s assembling a committee of those interested in helping to make this dream a reality. The selection of the committee should be finalized and many of the organizational aspects of planning completed this fall. Following that, he will bring RAGBRAI officials to town to help guide them. He plans to have an initial kickoff announcement early in 2015 with route selection and course announcement in early spring. The event itself will be held in late October or early November.
Now RAGBRAI is kind of a strange name for an event, but it works, and everyone in the cycling community knows it, although I don’t know how many know what it stands for. So following in that tradition, Peter’s working name for the Mississippi event is MABBCRAMS, Mississippi Annual Blues Bicycling Challenge Ride Across the Magnolia State.
“Bike/Walk Mississippi is very much interested, and being a non-profit makes this organization a perfect entity to be the home for this event every year,” Peter said. “Their board is considering this possibility and we hope they will champion it for years to come.”
So far Peter says the hardest thing has been his training to complete his fact-finding participation in RAGBRAI, but he sees his biggest challenge in making the Mississippi event happen as finding sponsors to buy-in and financially support the idea.
When I asked Peter what people could do to help, he said, “Start training for long-distance riding and when announced, sign up to participate whether it’s for the full distance or one leg of the ride. If they don’t wish to ride, they can donate money or their time to help the event become a success.”
He plans to have all proceeds from this event go toward creating and maintaining bicycle/ walking trails in the state.
An event like this is a tremendous way to show off everything good about our state. Cyclists will stop in a different town each night and witness first-hand the warmth and hospitality we’re known for. Peter says, “This is not just an opportunity for bicycle enthusiasts. This is an opportunity for church groups, Rotary Clubs, individual businesses and individuals to help impact tourism in our state. By welcoming cyclists from all over the country, and the world, we’ll expose people that have never heard of or visited our state before. They’ll spend money and, given the experience that we can provide, they’ll bring back family and friends for future visits for years to come.”
“It will take a cohesive, coordinated effort from many entities. Everything from local Convention and Visitor’s Boards to fire and public safety, from MDOT to mayors and towns on the route, from small businesses to individual citizens,” Peter explained. “A real team effort to make Mississippi shine and make the event successful.”